Cover Image
close this bookHandbook on Justice for Victims (UNODCCP, 1999, 132 p.)
close this folderChapter V: Working together at the international level
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentA. Regional and subregional strategies
View the documentB. International cooperation to reduce victimization and assist victims
View the documentC. The role of the United Nations, in particular the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme
View the documentD. The role of non-governmental organizations
View the documentE. Reducing victimization: towards a concerted approach

E. Reducing victimization: towards a concerted approach

While much is being done internationally to alleviate the plight of different kinds of victims, all too often these efforts, whether governmental or non-governmental, are fragmented and carried out in relative isolation from each other, in spite of attempts at coordination. A more systemic approach would help to obtain a greater synergy and multiplier effect. This problem and the potential for concerted action is evident from even a cursory perusal of recent programme overviews.1 The victim perspective offers a common unifying theme, which, if more systematically handled, could yield major benefits for international action and alleviate the plight of victims the world over. It could also help to reduce victimization, especially if an effective early warning system and conflict resolution capability are in place. The right of "humanitarian intervention", long debated, is increasingly being accepted, and proposals for a cadre of "white helmets" are being seriously entertained.

In both preventive efforts and the provision of remedies for victims, the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme has a lead role to play. The Declaration of Basic Principles for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power contains essential provisions, which, applied in practice, could be a veritable Magna Carta for victims, as it has often been called. Ways of achieving this need to be further developed and the present Handbook should help significantly in this regard. A considerable amount of other information and action proposals are also available, including specific recommendations for implementation of the Declaration deriving from various expert meetings and national strategies reported in reply to United Nations surveys. Particularly relevant initiatives, such as the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on victims of gross violations of human rights, would figure prominently in this undertaking and some joint follow-up could be envisaged. The division of responsibilities among the various entities of the United Nations system, with a coordinating mechanism to ensure complementarity and mutual support, could further rationalize the efforts. Much remains to be done and it can best be done collectively, drawing on the special competence and contributions of all parts of the United Nations system and affiliated organizations.

There is also scope for further initiatives to be taken at the international level as a necessary complement to the steps taken in pursuit of offenders by the establishment of international criminal jurisdictions. The matter of compensation to victims of crime and abuse of power is still in its embryonic stage. The United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture has limited funds and other categories of victims are largely ignored. The Ninth Congress (Cairo, 1995) recommended that an international fund for crime victims be established. It has been proposed that the fund for victims of torture be expanded to include also other categories of victims (or their survivors), and that victims of transnational crimes be eligible for some kind of reparation. The provision of international means of recourse and redress where national channels are insufficient remains a key issue and one that deserves to be jointly pursued.

Recent jurisprudence has highlighted important precedents for transnational remedies for victimization. Particularly significant is the suit lodged against a Latin American Government by a torture victim in an American court for wrongs inflicted by a military predecessor Government, which resulted in a settlement (the first time a successor Government was sued in a foreign court). Measures to reduce the impunity of offenders by pursuing them across frontiers and taking them before an international instance are a sine qua non of justice, but so is proper reparation for the victims.

In the light of the financial constraints currently operating on the United Nations, international redress may seem to be mere wishful thinking, yet possibilities abound. The confiscated proceeds from drug trafficking have recently been contributed by a Member State (Luxembourg) to the United Nations International Drug Control Programme. Various means of mobilizing additional revenues for United Nations activities have been suggested, including a tax on international financial transactions, the waiving of a portion of countries' foreign debt for worthy purposes, the Tobin tax and other similar proposals. Some countries finance their victim compensation programmes from fines paid by offenders. This offers a lesson internationally, especially with the vast sums accumulated by deposed dictators enjoying virtual immunity. The United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Fund has to date received only a modest level of contributions, but could be utilized for pilot projects and other initiatives to benefit victims. A call for an international year or an international day for crime victims has so far gone unheeded. It could draw wider attention to the needs of victims and possibilities for action on their behalf. Contributions in cash or in kind, which can be earmarked for specific purposes, could be utilized for a whole range of productive activities, including those designed to pre-empt victimization (for example, the development of model school programmes on conflict resolution, in cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, modelled on those already used in some countries).

The United Nations International Year for Tolerance requires practical follow-up to have demonstrable impact. The process of bridge-building by former adversaries and grass-roots movements designed to promote greater empathy and mutual understanding can usefully be supported and serve as an example for others. There is vast potential for constructive action and a wealth of possible actors whose collaboration could be enlisted in global or local initiatives to reduce victimization and alleviate the plight of victims. It is hoped that this Handbook will not only trace possible paths which such future action could take but also serve as a stimulus for new initiatives.

The right of people to international protection is being increasingly recognized. It is now almost universally accepted that the safeguarding of human rights is the concern not only of individual States but of the entire international community. This includes Governments and intergovernmental organizations, as well as non-governmental organizations, which have been in the forefront of the defence of human and victim rights; the media, which have drawn world attention to ongoing abuses; and the public at large. The United Nations has a special responsibility and can provide the framework for concerted action, using all parts of the system, other international and regional entities, professional associations, scientific institutions and broad-based support. Much can be done to contain victimization and suffering if the political will, the expertise and the vision are there.


1 See, for example, Yael Danieli, Nigel S. Rodley and Lars Weisaeth, eds., International Responses to Traumatic Stress (New York, Baywood Publishing Company, 1996).